What's beyond authentic leadership

This year’s Marketing Society Marketing Leaders Programme 2014 is now up and running and an important insight has already emerged about the nature of marketing leadership.

During the course of the first workshop this month, a diverse range of senior contributors shared their ideas and experiences. This year we heard from Sarah Warby (Marketing Director, Sainsbury’s), Martin Glenn (CEO, United Biscuits), Andy Duncan (CEO, Camelot), Cilla Snowball (Chairman, AMV-BBDO), Anni Townend (Leadership Coach, SRA) and Roisin Donnelly (Marketing Director, P&G). At one level, it was noticeable how different all of these people were in terms of their personal manner and leadership style. However, one thing that did unite them was that they came across as being very true to themselves and their beliefs.

Much has been written about the importance of authenticity as a trait of great leaders. There is no one way or right way to lead people. What matters far more is that leaders get really clear about what they stand for and believe in, they create a vision of the future they want to lead for based on these values, and they then maintain their integrity through thick and thin as they engage people on the journey towards delivery. The trick is to find one’s own unique leadership style that plays to one’s personal strengths and passions.

For marketers though, particularly in large organisations, there are two further considerations which I think go beyond the well-established principles of authentic leadership.

Firstly, in a corporate context, it is not always easy just to ‘be oneself’. There is the constant pressure of balancing one’s personal values and behaviours versus those of the prevailing corporate culture. In his excellent book on leadership coaching, Graham Lee talks of two alternative and lesser styles of leadership.

On the one hand, if you stick too rigidly to your own style, the danger is that your leadership becomes ‘defiant’. Defiant leaders are often seen as mavericks, but they can also become isolated and evoke resistance from others within the organisation. On the other hand, sometimes leaders go the other way and become ‘compliant’, suppressing their individuality and going too easily with the cultural flow.

The challenge of course is to find the middle ground. Lee asserts that authentic leadership certainly involves staying true to oneself, but it also means engaging with the organisation’s culture to build influence and drive change in a positive and constructive way.

In order for marketing leaders to do this successfully, the second consideration that we at Brand Learning emphasise is that their leadership cannot only be about their own values and beliefs – their leadership must also be centred on the needs and values of customers. A key responsibility of marketers is to drive sustainable growth by helping to ensure the whole organisation is focused on delivering experiences that create real value for customers. Not only that, but the behaviours of everyone in the organisation must also be in tune with the principles and expectations of those customers and, more broadly, society as a whole.

Bringing these thoughts together, the opportunity for marketers is to extend their thinking about leadership to go beyond authenticity to include the idea of being ‘customer-centred’. Set out a clear purpose based on a desire to serve customers in a useful and well-intentioned way. Build partnerships with people cross-functionally based on a commitment to fulfilling this purpose in practice. Not only will this help lift personal leadership performance, it will also provide much-needed inspiration and direction for the organisation as a whole.

Originally posted on the Marketing Society blog.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer-centred leadership capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @AndyBird_BL. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

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